Using a complex systems approach to model and analyse air transportation
PhD Candidate: Soufiane Bouarfa (TU Delft) PhD Supervisors: prof. Henk Blom and prof. R. Curran (TU Delft)
The resilience of the current air transportation system is implicitly tested around the globe on a regular basis. Each day of operation, the system is subject to a multitude of disruptions ranging from deteriorating weather, through passenger delays, up to aircraft or crew related problems. Current practice consists of an effective coordination process between human operators who play a key role in recovering from disruptions. Motivated by the need to understand such a human-invoked resilience, this research explores a multi-agent systems approach to model part of the socio-technical air transportation system. The exemplar focus is on Airline Operations Control (AOC) where coordination between humans facilitate disruption recovery
Coordination is a unique capability by humans that plays an essential role in recovering from disruptions. Klein  defines coordination as “the attempt by multiple entities to act in concert in order to achieve a common goal by carrying out a script they all understand.” Within AOC, many operators with different roles interact and coordinate at the sharp edge towards achieving a common goal, namely making sure their airline operations adhere to the plan as close as possible. Consideration of the aircraft routings, crew, maintenance, weather, customer needs, and turnaround processes complicate AOC. Current practice consists of an effective coordination process between humans who play an essential role in disruption management. In order to start thinking about a further optimization of AOC, a prerequisite is to first develop an in-depth understanding of current coordination processes.
This research aims at agent-based modelling and simulating an AOC system using various coordination strategies. We embrace Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation (ABMS) because it has been extensively used to model and analyze large-scale complex socio-technical systems, and address cases where agents need to coordinate and solve problems in a distributed fashion . ABMS provides a platform to integrate multiple heterogeneous components at different levels. Models of actors, technological systems, and the operating environment as well as the interactions between them can be naturally covered. Therefore, it is expected that an ABMS approach will a) help predicting the performance of the complex coordinated AOC socio-technical system that emerges from the interactions between AOC operators; and b) help manage dependencies between the activities of AOC operators.
In the literature, there are few studies on AOC socio-technical decision-making and coordination. Bruce  has examined many aspects of decision-making by airline controllers through conducting multiple case studies at six AOC centers. Feigh  has examined the work of airline controllers at four US airlines of varying sizes, and applied an ethnographic approach to have representative work models. Pujet and Feron  have proposed a discrete event model to investigate the dynamic behavior of the AOC center of a major airline. In their model, each agent was represented as a multi-class queuing server, and the AOC as a multi-agent, multi-class queuing system. Most often studies of AOC mainly focus on developing tools for solving operational problems. e.g.  Nevertheless current practice of AOC is to coordinate disruptions manually rather than relying on coordination tools.
The model can be used to assess the effectiveness of airline disruption management plans and improve decision-making by airline controllers.
- S. Bouarfa, H. A. P. Blom, R. Curran, M. H. C. Everdij, “Agent-based modeling and simulation of emergent behavior in air transportation,” Complex Adaptive Systems Modeling, 1:15, 2013. http://www.casmodeling.com/content/1/1/15
- S. Bouarfa, H.A.P. Blom, R. Curran, “Airport Performance Modeling using an Agent-Based Approach,” in Proceedings Air Transport and Operations Seminar (ATOS 2012), Eds. R. Curran et al., p 427-442, 2012.
- S. Bouarfa, H.A.P. Blom, R. Curran, K. Hindriks, “A study into modelling coordination in disruption management by Airline Operations Control,” 2014 Aviation Technology, Integration, and Operations Conference, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
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